A young woman who returned home to Ireland after doctors in Australia gave her just five months to live has experienced “disaster after disaster” in her care due to the HSE cyberattack.
Meabh Feerick, just 25 and mother to three-year-old Noah, brought cancer treatment scans home on a USB stick but doctors here were unable to access the device due to the impact of the cyberattack which crippled HSE systems for months. This meant they could not assess how quickly the cancer was worsening.
Then after she had new scans done at Mayo University Hospital (MUH), she was transferred to Galway University Hospital (GUH) but doctors there could not access either set of scans.
She described the delays as “scary” and said: “It is horrible to say that by coming home to my own country this is happening.”
Ms Feerick said there is no cure for the aggressive genetic melanoma she has, but she desperately wants to know how long she has with her son:
Ms Feerick is speaking out because she desperately wants to change the system.
“If I can make a difference somewhere, I can take comfort from that. I am haunted that a child or an elderly person would have to go through this same system,” she said.
Irish Cancer Society (ICS) director of advocacy Rachel Morrogh warned that many people could be impacted by the disruption caused to health systems in the last 18 months:
Ms Feerick was diagnosed in December following delays as community doctors did not realise how ill she was. After a series of surgeries and treatments in Sydney, doctors found she did not have long to live and advised her to return home quickly.
However, when Ms Feerick arrived in mid-June, she came into a HSE under attack from cyberhackers, as well as the impact of Covid-19.
When she was seen at MUH in mid-July, she said: “They said they had no imaging, they said they would have to start that whole process again. I was told anything I had brought home was more or less useless. I was knocked further back.”
She was told new scans could take up to two months but she had some done earlier as an in-patient in Mayo when her condition worsened. When her care was transferred to the larger Galway hospital, she was devastated to learn in mid-August they could not access scans done by their sister hospital.
“Surely the hospitals would have a daily courier service. It is months now since the cyberattack, you’d think they would have a system,” she said.
New scans, some of which her oncologist only saw last week, show the cancer continues to spread through her bones. Her spine is affected and there are fears for her brain, she said.
“I want to highlight there is a long wait for everything,” she said. "People are wating on scans, waiting on results, waiting on appointments, everything is waiting.”
Each nurse appears to do the work of five people, she said, praising staff who treated her at both hospitals, and at Mayo Hospice.
A spokeswoman for the Saolta hospital group said they cannot comment on individual care.
“The priority across the HSE is on ensuring patient services are fully functional,” she said.
“Most priority systems” are back online including radiology and diagnostics.
The Irish Cancer Society fears the health service is “losing hard-fought gains” following improvements in cancer services up to now.
“We are heartbroken to hear of Maebh’s experience since she returned home to Ireland and our thoughts are with her and her son Noah,” Ms Morrogh said.
“Clinicians are telling us that they are seeing cancers which are more advanced because of delays in access to services.”